In his frenzy of construction in West Bank settlements on the eve of the freeze, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is like a drunk heading out for one last round in the tavern before the prohibition laws take effect, or a gourmand who promises himself he'll start his ruthless diet tomorrow, but tonight he will set a Guinness world record in gluttony.
Vows of abstinence, whether out of free will or forced, do not fool anyone. The glutton won't lose weight and the drunkard won't sober up.
In his flight from responsibility, Netanyahu is designing a special status for himself in the Middle East and the envelope of powers influencing it, among them the group whose acts and failures are inadequate to force a conclusion, but are enough to interfere - those with the power of veto.
The first person with veto power is the Hamas military commander in Gaza, Ahmed Jabari. During January's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, Jabari was crushed by the IDF's Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yoav Gallant. Only partial goals for this operation were set out, perhaps too incomplete, but they were completely achieved. Better that way than to set full goals and only achieve them partly.
The operation did not paralyze Hamas' ability to grow stronger, nor did it remove the movement from power, but it did cause it to reconsider its policies - so much so that the IDF now thinks Hamas will not initiate any escalation before the end of 2010.
This is somewhat of a consolation for Negev residents, since Israeli defense capabilities against rockets fired from Gaza should improve by then. But in terms of Israeli-Hamas relations, the situation is only less negative than it was before, not more positive.
Jabari is responsible for this. In the internal balance of forces inside Hamas and its web of ties with Iran, he cannot make Khaled Meshal, Ismail Haniyeh and others accept his views, but he can certainly veto any decisions he views as wrong - including those concerning the agreement to free Palestinian prisoners in exchange for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
West of Gaza, in Cairo, sits a man with the second veto in the Middle East, 74-year-old Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the Egyptian Defense Minister for the past 18 years. Tantawi is one of three people fighting to inherit Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's job, with seemingly a worse chance than both Lt. Gen. Omar Suleiman, the director of Egyptian Intelligence, and the president's son, Gamal Mubarak. However, neither can be anointed heir without Tantawi's assent as the military representative.
Despite all the secretive prestige surrounding the Mukhabarat (the Egyptian security service), the army is stronger and if a confrontation arises the army will easily win. Additionally, the army is not excited to see a family dynasty, preferring a president who formerly served in the officers corps. Not necessarily Tantawi himself, but based on the model of Mubarak and his predecessors Anwar Sadat, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Muhammad Naguib. Significant Egyptian support for Israeli-Arab peace will have to wait for Mubarak's successor, in other words, for whoever does Tantawi's bidding.
The third person with veto power is U.S. President Barack Obama. He does not have enough power to dictate a peace plan, but Israel will find it difficult to attack Iran without his support. It is interesting to track the relationships between right-wing Israeli politicians and American Republicans to see if there is an alliance that might undermine Obama's political base at home, such as on Obama's key issue and fundamental test: his initiative to revolutionize health care.
Netanyahu has a super-veto, since his veto is of his own making. He closes his eyes and then places an obstacle in his own path. But the old saying about the old goat that will never be able to produce milk again is wrong about Netanyahu this time; in this case, the milk will never produce a goat.
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